Smart Ways to Buy a Sewing Machine: Introduction / Selecting Used Machines

Since I recommend buying the best sewing machine you can afford, the kind of machine you consider should be determined by your budget. For example, if you have only $500 to spend, your choices are to buy a once top-of-the-line used machine or buy a new, cheaply made model. I recommend buying the used machine.

If you can afford to spend more than $1,000, I recommend looking at some of the new computerized models. Whether you shop for a new or used sewing machine, you should ask yourself what you liked and disliked about your old one (see the checklist on the facing page) and what features you require of any sewing machine, new or used.


What Do You Like and Dislike about Your Current Machine?

Bring a checklist of what you like and dislike about your old machine when you go shopping for another one.


Nobody is going to steal it

Easy to use

Basic stitches

Good stitch quality

Flatbed machine

Easy to clean and repair

Smooth running


Sews speedily

Sentimental value

Looks old, very sexy

Other ________


Limited functions

Slow speed

Few stitches

Poor wiring, motor

Poor stitch quality

Heavy to carry around

Bad lighting

Tension is always off


Costly to repair

Difficult to thread

Looks old, not sexy

Other _______

Where to Find Used Machines

Where to find it

Risk level

Garage sale or secondhand store

Very risky. Only for old fix-it-up guys and gals.


Could be a good buy, especially if you know the history of the machine. If you are not sure of the machine’s condition, suggest that the sale include a trip to a reliable dealer for a mechanical checkup before you buy. Doing so will preserve your friendship in the long run.

Antique shop

I thought you wanted to sew?

Want ads

Great possibilities here, but be careful. This is a great way to buy a very current model. The seller might have made a mistake and can't return it to the dealer. Test the machine before you buy. Once you hand over the money, the money is his and the machine is yours. Call dealerships to find out current prices of the model for sale.

Sewing-machine dealer

Your most reliable source for a used machine. Test before you buy (some dealers will let you take the machine home for the weekend). Insist on a one year parts and labor guarantee on an older machine or a two-year guarantee on a newer one, even if you have to pay a little extra for it.

We all have our limits when it comes to buying used stuff; I know some people who would rather die before they would buy anything used. Never mind that their homes are filled with items acquired in antique shops and auctions. I suppose those items were not used—they were just cherished!

I was surprised by one of my own prejudices not long ago when I was “junking” with my friend Julie Ann. I offhandedly said to her that I would never buy a used mattress and didn’t understand the mentality of anyone who would. She gently reminded me that, ex-Peace Corps, international businessperson that I was, I had probably slept on some of the most “interesting” mattresses in the world. “And who,” she said, “do you think slept on those mattresses before you arrived at the hotel?” Good point, Julie Ann!

The cleanliness factor isn't the only reason why people avoid used appliances. When you are paying hundreds of dollars for a used item, you want to know that you aren’t wasting your money. You want to know if you can you return the item if it doesn’t work properly and if there is a guarantee.

Here are some good reasons to consider buying a used sewing machine.

• Most used machines are models that are no longer in production. But not all used machines are old or discontinued. In fact, many people trade in near brand-new machines because they have to have the latest technology or the latest status symbol. Many sewers keep their older, reliable machine and buy a used second machine.

• Used machines cost less than new ones of the same quality. If you are not a maniac for the latest have-it-or-die model, take advantage of another’s disposable consumerism to pick up a good buy. Last year Jill might have spent $2,000 for her machine and this year she is selling it for $1,000. Not a bad discount for a one-year-old machine that has been well taken care of.

• Some older sewing machines make better stitches and run more smoothly than some new models. Just because a machine is older doesn’t mean it isn’t good, especially if it was once top of the line.

• You help to recycle. Give that machine a home and help to keep something out of the junkyard.

• If the machine is a classic, once top-of-the-line model in good condition, it will retain a lot of its value. You can always sell it and recoup most of your money.

Having said all that, my mother is sometimes right: Buying something used can mean buying someone else’s problems. So when buying anything—new or used—you do better if you know what you want, do your homework, and take some sensible precautions. The chart on the facing page lists some places to look for used machines and the level of risk you take when you buy.

Oldies with goodies

Generally speaking, older machines can't offer you all the conveniences of a computerized modern machine, but some older machines still rival the new ones for their quality. Here are some respected manufacturers and which of their brands I recommend.

Baby Lock This company made a name for itself in the serger industry, and it now mostly sells machines made by Brother. I haven’t seen many of these machines on the used-machine market, perhaps because they are new and good.

Bernina Any Swiss-made Bernina (especially models 830, 910, 930, and 1230) is a treasure worth keeping, and that's why they are difficult to find on the secondhand market. If you happen to find one for sale and it meets your sewing needs, snap it up. Quilters go bonkers for these machines.

Brother This company has always made exceptional, high-end machines and unexceptional, cheaper chain-store models, which I don’t recommend. If you can find one of the more expensive models, it's worth a look. These machines will last almost forever.

Elna Recent Elna machines have been made by Japanese companies, but some of the older, Swiss-made models from the 1970s were very innovative and are collector’s items. Look for the much-loved Elna Super, Lotus, or Carina, and some of the smaller, lightweight gems.

Kenmore Sears machines have always been manufactured by various companies (mostly Japanese today) to Sears’ specifications. Generally speaking, Sears has always sold reliable, basic machines for the average American sewer. You can call the Sears repair department and ask if the company still stocks the parts for the model you are considering.

New Home (Janome) Like Brother, this Japanese company produces high-end and low-end machines. The older, more expensive models were usually well made and innovative, while the low-end models were designed for chain stores. Again, I don’t recommend the low-end models.

Necchi This Italian manufacturer now produces mostly low-end models in the Far East, but it was once a leader in innovation in the sewing industry. Any Necchi machine made before 1980 is worth a look, especially one in the Supernova series (1957) and the unusual-looking but superb-sewing computerized Suprema IV.

Pfaff All older metal Pfaffs were built like tanks, and people wait on line for some of them, especially a model 1222 or any other model with a walking foot. Newer electronic models that have needle up/down options and bobbin-empty indicators are especially nice machines.

Singer From time to time, people go crazy over a Singer model; these days little, black (sometimes white) Singer Featherweights are selling for astronomical prices. Other models have also been innovative and reliable workhorses, like the Touch and Sew series of the 1950s and l960s. Avoid Singer’s early computerized models.

Viking Most older Viking machines were well built and innovative. Some of their recent electronic (as opposed to computerized) models are worth a look (especially the 1100). Many Viking owners traded the excellent #1 for the #1+, which adds embroidery. If you can find the #1 at a good price, snap it up.

White Now owned by Viking, the White Sewing Machine Company made some good middle-price range machines. Check with a Viking dealer to find out if parts are available.

Parts for Used Machines

Sewing-machine manufacturers are required to keep an inventory of parts for out-of-production machines for as long as the warranty sold with the machine (usually 15 to 20 years). The cost of keeping these parts is expensive, so the parts don’t come cheaply to the dealer or to you. Local dealers themselves also keep old trade-in machines and cannibalize them for parts. If you have a machine that you love dearly and don’t want to see it bite the dust, buy its healthy twin for a few bucks at a garage sale. Then you’ll have spare parts to replace yourself for to bring to the dealer when you need them.

What to do with your old machine

If you have decided that you want another—new or used—machine, here are your options as to what to do with your old machine:

• Keep the old machine and buy another because you intend to use both. If you have the space and the old machine has some redeeming qualities that you really enjoy and can still use, keep it. If, after a few weeks or months, you find that you will never take the old one out of the closet and use it, sell it or give it away.

• Give the old one to Goodwill and buy another machine. If your old machine is ready for the junkyard, give it to the junk man. But if it works, think about passing it on to someone who doesn’t mind using a basic machine. Give it to Goodwill, a college student on a tight budget, or a kid who wants to learn how to sew, But don’t give a machine that's dysfunctional to anyone. That will only frustrate the recipient and may put her off sewing forever.

If your machine has naught but sentimental value for you, think about taking a picture of it and keeping that on your bulletin board. Or transfer the good karma by pasting the picture of your old “friend” onto your next machine. Then give the old machine to a charity where you know it will get good use. You will be doubly blessed!

• Trade the old one in for a new machine. To get your business, most dealers will give you something for an old machine even if it's useless to them. I know one dealer that will give you a dollar a pound for your old machine; he doesn’t give up much since the heaviest clunkers weigh in at 40 pounds.

Sell your old machine on the open market. If your machine is in good working order, you may get more money by selling it yourself than by trading it in to a dealer. A dealer might suggest how much you should ask for it, or you could check the blue book price.

If your machine is worth less than $100, try word-of-mouth advertising, bulletin boards in the supermarket, and Internet ads. If your machine is worth more, you may want to put an ad in your local Sunday paper, which will cost you between $20 and $40. Don’t forget to subtract the cost of the ad and your time from the selling price. Clean and oil the machine, and present it in a good atmosphere when a buyer comes to call, Smile, look nice—you have just become a sewing-machine dealer!

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Sunday, 2023-11-12 17:39